Much was made of the GOP's mid-summer conversion to the party of seniors, despite years of diatribes against Medicare and Social Security. Equally astonishing is Republicans' assertion that by stonewalling the Democratic agenda they are acting as the noble guardians of young people.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) decried President Obama's agenda, arguing that Democrats are "burying our children and grandchildren under a mountain of unsustainable debt … (and) refusing to make tough choices and putting all the sacrifice on future generations."
As a member of one of those future generations, I would find Mr. Boehner's concern reassuring if it weren't so phony.
Did Boehner only find his thinking-of-the-children cap in January? In 2000, the national debt was a bit over $5.5 trillion. By 2008, the debt was nearly $10 trillion. Republicans' newfound concern for deficit spending would have been welcome when they controlled Congress during the Bush administration.
The Republican Party now cares about the national debt because it is an effective political tool, not because the thought of our generation paying it off keeps them up at night. Congressional Republicans could have demanded that President Bush pay for all his initiatives, but they chose to let him spend like there was no tomorrow.
Intentions aside, do Republicans have a point? It is apparent, after all, that we do need to get the national debt under control. Yet, as Warren Buffett wrote earlier this year, to do so, "truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required." We will be the ones faced with making the difficult decisions on cutting services and raising taxes.
Our generation's future success, however, does not hinge solely on the national debt. We are about to enter the formative stages of our careers during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The unemployment rate for men and women between 15 and 24 years old is around 17 percent. While it is concerning to consider how we will pay off the national debt when we're older, it is also alarming to think of the consequences this recession will have for us.
A bad economy won't just hurt our prospects for landing great jobs right out of college. Studies show that someone who enters the job market during a period of high unemployment receives lower wages than he or she would if the economy were better.
Worse, earnings will likely remain depressed for over a decade.
So not only will the recession force us into less favorable jobs with worse pay after graduation, we will continue to suffer for it for many years. The Wall Street Journal reported, "a man who graduated in December 1982 when unemployment was at 10.8 percent made, on average, 23 percent less his first year out of college and 6.6 percent less 18 years out than one who graduated in May 1981 when the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent."
The terrible economy is also solidifying low-paying or unpaid internships as a necessary post-graduation stepping stone to a paying job. This arrangement is great for corporations but is highly regressive, as only the most fortunate will be able to afford a year or two of no pay to advance their careers.
The Republican Party is dishonest to act as though the only thing policy makers should focus on is the national debt, while it is clear that other aspects of the recession diminish our prospects for the future, too. In their anti-spending dogmatism, Republicans are willing to sacrifice any potential benefits of short-term deficit spending.
"Families are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?'", Boehner recently said. Yet the New York Times reported that aides say "Congressional Republicans are likely to oppose new programs" to create employment opportunities. By refusing to consider any proposal that would spend money, Boehner and his allies are stymieing efforts to solve the unemployment problem.
The GOP is doing nothing to address the consequences of the recession that we are feeling right now, and will be for years to come. The deficit is a good talking point, but we need leaders who are concerned with both the national debt and helping get the job market back to a position more favorable to youth. No one in the party fits that description.
Dan Davidson '11 is a political science and music concentrator from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at daniel_davidson-at-brown.edu.